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The Call

2013 | 94 min | R | 1.85:1

The Call


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Movie appeal

Psychological thriller-



Theatrical release date

 15 March, 2013
 20 September, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Screenshots from The Call Blu-ray

The Call Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, March 14, 2013

With “The Machinist,” “Session 9,” and “Vanishing on 7th Street,” director Brad Anderson has developed a reputation for smart, challenging thrillers that embrace the art of manufacturing suspense instead of pulverizing the audience with cheap thrills. Well, intelligence apparently doesn’t pay the bills, finding Anderson in command of “The Call,” an idiotic offering of tension (co-financed by World Wrestling Entertainment) that plays like an exploitation picture made by a man who’s never seen an exploitation picture. With plot holes galore, hammy performances, and an easily telegraphed screenplay, “The Call” goes from passably engaging to insulting in a hurry, finding Anderson unable to make the sloppily cut puzzle pieces fit, relying on moldy trends in horror cinema to maintain pressure.

An ace 911 operator in Los Angeles working the night shift, Jordan (Halle Berry) is confronted with a disturbing call concerning a home invasion. Screwing up procedure, Jordan inadvertently assists the killer, resulting in a dead girl and a heavy conscience. Months later, the operator has turned to teaching to avoid additional trauma, looking to stay out of the line of fire. However, when teen Casey (Abigail Breslin) is abducted from a local mall by sweaty ghoul Michael (Michael Eklund) and stuffed into a car trunk for the long ride to her doom, Jordan jumps back into duty, trying to keep the hysterical girl on the line of her pre-paid cell phone long enough to save the day. Unable to use GPS to pinpoint location, Jordan uses her wits to figure out a plan of rescue, instructing Casey to use items in the trunk to her advantage, while Michael has to contend with nosy drivers preventing him from carrying out the kidnapping without attracting attention.

The screenwriter of “Exit Wounds” and “Thirteen Ghosts,” Richard D’Ovidio isn’t exactly cooking up fresh material with “The Call,” finding 2012’s “Brake” covering basically the same routine of suspense. There’s also the Larry Cohen oeuvre to contend with, finding “Cellular,” “Phone Booth,” and “Captivity” also ringing a few bells as “The Call” goes about its business. However familiar it might be, originality isn’t the goal here, only big thrills, and Anderson manages to kick off the proceedings on a promising note of unrest, introducing the audience to the workings of The Hive, a carefully lit call center for 911 operators. Fielding all kinds of requests and managing pleas for help, the workers are faced with an onslaught of violence and panic, unable to do anything besides collect information and trigger emergency services. It’s a display of managed chaos that squeezes out a crackerjack opener, watching Jordan mangle the initial kidnapping situation by instinctively hitting a redial button when disconnected from her caller, haunted by Michael’s taunts and her inability to protect the terrified girl.

The thrills continue once the chase begins, observing Casey gradually come down from her initial freak-out to take direction from Jordan, kicking out a brake light to signal other drivers on the freeway, eventually working with cans of paint to create tracks for the police to follow. Anderson handles the early going with ease, concentrating on basic elements of suspense, merging Jordan’s hyper responsiveness, Casey’s teary compliance, and Michael’s paranoia to bring “The Call” to life, hitting those sweet spots of terror and screen manipulation that rarely disappoint, even when carried out in the most obvious manner possible. At least for the first half, “The Call” generates a swell of stress, keeping Casey’s ordeal engaging if rarely intellectually stimulating.

“The Call” begins to break down as it runs out of road. Slowing the chase, the production turns to outside interference to complicate Michael’s plan, watching the villain deal with a meddlesome town car driver (Michael Imperioli) and a gas station attendant in gruesome ways to maintain focus on the crime at hand. Shifted into park, an awareness of the screenplay’s shortcomings are exposed in full, with painfully inept cops (Morris Chestnut and David Otunga) invented to prevent swift justice, despite Jordan’s remarkable skills of extracting information and her imagination to lay out a literal white path to Michael’s automobile. These confrontations are ridiculous, testing patience as “The Call” wanders away from its strongest asset: the car chase.

Contributing to the steady downfall of the feature is the performance from Eklund, whose absurd overacting ruins any shot for the film to have a compelling, layered villain. All slack-jawed and soaked in perspiration, Eklund show no shades of malevolence, charging ahead as a monster without mercy, working out a master plan of possession I don’t believe the production ever thought out in full before shooting began. It’s embarrassingly over-the-top work from the actor, sparking more than a few questions of disbelief. How could anyone spend ten seconds with the quaking madman and not immediately reach for pepper spray? That Michael’s wife is revealed to have not been aware of her husband’s penchant for slaughtering teen blondes is the biggest laugh of the movie.

Cruelly, Anderson attempts to match Eklund’s mania through skateboard video-inspired cinematography (all porous close-ups and caffeinated handheld work) and editorial pauses, holding on flashes of rage for a millisecond for reasons unknown. If it’s a stylistic choice, I don’t get it. Boredom in the editing bay is a more reasonable explanation.

“The Call” punts away all hope in the finale, changing Jordan’s character from a concerned helper to a hero, showing more investigative might than the entire L.A.P.D. as she tracks Michael down herself. It’s here that the picture turns ugly, trading trembling cell phone calls for torture scenarios, coughing up every cliché in the book before resting on a non-ending. “The Call” didn’t need such detours into depravity and crushing formula, finding ideal crispness as a simplistic but effective 911 nail-biter. Settling on a sledgehammer approach to play to the back row, Anderson ultimately trades in his artistic integrity to achieve the one event that’s eluded his career: a hit movie.

Starring: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, Michael Imperioli, David Otunga (I)
Director: Brad Anderson

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The Call, Forum Discussions

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The Call 41 Jul 20, 2013

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